Santa Monica is a beachside city, bordered on three sides by the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles, and on the other side, the majestic sprawl of the Pacific Ocean—a marvelous mix of sophistication and kitsch.
The 100-year-old, double-jointed Santa Monica Pier is a magnet for the young and young-at-heart, a melting pot of tourists, locals, surfers and anglers. They’re all drawn to its restaurants, arcades, brilliantly gaudy shops, a carousel, the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel (130 feet high), an aquarium, a trapeze school with accommodating net below, pier fishing and 4-foot waves.
Sophisticated lodging options include Shutters on the Beach, for the feel of a beach house; Shore Hotel, for contemporary luxury; and The Georgian Hotel, for a bit of Old Hollywood.
For this visit, we chose the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows and were greeted by its landmark 135-year-old fig tree, as well as exemplary service and pampering. Situated atop the bluffs of Santa Monica on 5 acres of lush, landscaped gardens, the spacious rooms and private poolside bungalows have been welcoming celebrity guests since 1921. Think Greta “I vant to be alone” Garbo, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Lindbergh and Presidents Kennedy and Clinton. Chef Ray Garcia’s bistro, Fig, offers ingredient-driven seasonal cuisine. Be sure to order the warm quinoa salad and short ribs. For romantic and/or group socializing, the eclectic Bungalow, the hotel’s newest addition, is amazing, with spaces ranging from quiet library-appointed bars and Baja-style casitas to shabby chic-furnished terraces and ping-pong-tabled patios. Somehow it all works. Oh, and it looks right out over the Pacific. Best of all is the hotel’s location: within 1 mile of all the best that Santa Monica has to offer.
So, put on your walking shoes and head for the following must-sees:
*26-Mile Bike Path: biking, jogging and simply strolling along this ocean promenade
*Santa Monica Beach: one of the widest beaches around and a favorite movie and TV location
*Santa Monica Pier: a melting pot of people, and just plain fun stuff
*M.I.’s Westside Comedy Theater: for the best standup and improv in the L.A. area
*Pacific Park: an amusement park on the pier
*Angel’s Attic: a charming dollhouse museum
*Blue Plate Oysterette: for fabulous fresh fish, key lime pie and ambiance
*Third Street Promenade: for pedestrian-friendly shopping
*Santa Monica Place: for open-air shopping at Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and more
*Locanda del Lago: for northern Italian cuisine
*Tar & Roses: for the latest in Southern California dishes
*Planet Blue: for chic vintage clothing
*Basement Tavern: a great happy hour in a 19th-century Victorian house
*Farmers Market: Find it every Wednesday on Arizona Avenue
*Annenberg Community Beach House: Now open to the public, it was built in 1926 by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, Marion Davies.
*Ivy at the Shore: Coziness abounds in this lunch spot, sister of the famous Ivy in L.A.
*Fred Segal: an L.A. institution and wonderland of unique clothing items on Broadway
And if the pace of this lovely urban oasis isn’t frenetic enough for you, there’s always the concrete sprawl and marvelous craziness of L.A., just minutes away. Such delightful dichotomy!